analysisU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden prefers appeasing Iran to risk of broader conflagration

The United States "has almost never supported Israeli offensives—not in 1948, 1967 and 1982, nor against Hezbollah and Hamas," Michael Oren tells JNS.

U.S. President Joe Biden in Los Angeles, Calif. on Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.
U.S. President Joe Biden in Los Angeles, Calif. on Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.
Israel Kasnett

U.S. President Joe Biden’s “Don’t” warning to Israel’s enemies didn’t work. Iran attacked Israel directly, and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah continues to fire rockets at Israel on a daily basis.

In fact, Biden’s “Don’t” strategy has never worked. It wasn’t taken seriously by the Taliban in 2021, or by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2022 either.

But now, Biden’s “Don’t” is being directed at Israel, the U.S.’s only ally in the Middle East. The president wants Jerusalem to “take the win’’ and not respond, in what appears to Israelis as a policy of appeasement.

Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, told JNS that while the United States has always stood by Israel on defensive measures, “it has almost never supported Israeli offensives—not in 1948, 1967 and 1982, nor in any of our battles with Hezbollah and Hamas.”

“Biden’s policy is in keeping with this long-standing policy,” he said.

Israel is under pressure from the United States and European nations to refrain from responding to Iran’s mass attack and instead exercise restraint after the Islamic regime fired more than 300 suicide drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles at the Jewish state early Sunday morning.

Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that American forces will not be participating in any offensive against Iran.

Instead, Biden convened a meeting of the G7 country leaders on Sunday “to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack,” a direct indication that the Biden administration does not want Iran’s attack, or Israel’s response for that matter, to result in a broader military conflict.

Experts agree the main considerations behind the U.S. and European calls for restraint are national elections in several countries and how a Middle East war could affect whom voters decide to elect. Biden’s team needs talking points for the upcoming elections and a broader Middle East conflict would jeopardize his campaign.

According to Oren, the Biden administration’s opposition to Israeli military action against Iran “reflects political considerations relating to the 2024 elections and, more generally, popular opposition to American involvement in another Middle Eastern war.” 

A major consideration for the United States is its concern that Iran will attack its assets in the region.

In January, Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-backed Iraqi militia, launched drones at Tower 22, an American logistics support base in Jordan near the Syrian border, killing three U.S. troops.

On Jan. 8, 2020, in response to the U.S. strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad five days earlier, Iran fired ballistic missiles that struck the Al Asad Airbase in Iraq, where U.S. troops were stationed. 

Iran claimed its recent aerial attack on Israel came in retaliation for the alleged Israeli assassination of IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi in Damascus on April 1.

Zahedi played a central role in the planning and execution of Iran proxy Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and led the IRGC’s operations out of Syria as the main Iranian contact with Hezbollah.

Israel’s defense apparatus, together with the United States, the United Kingdom, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, succeeded in preventing Iran’s massive aerial bombardment from causing any major damage or disruption. Of the hundreds of suicide drones and missiles fired at Israel by Iran and its proxies operating out of Yemen, Syria and Iraq, none of the drones or cruise missiles made it through, while just a few of the ballistic missiles managed to penetrate Israeli airspace, hitting the Nevatim Air Base in the Negev.

The sole casualty in the entire onslaught was a young Bedouin girl who was badly injured by shrapnel.

The involvement of Jordan

According to IDF Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), “From the Israeli point of view, the involvement of Jordan was the most important one. The fact that we can cooperate with the Jordanians … , for us, this buffer is a very important one. It just shows the importance of relations between Israel and Jordan. … It’s not just about water, it’s not just about gas, it’s about security of the Hashemite Kingdom.”

Meir Ben-Shabbat, head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy and National Security in Jerusalem, told JNS that Washington is “trying to emphasize the magnitude of the achievement against the Iranian attack and is content with that, along with a few additional diplomatic steps, the implications of which regarding neutralizing Iran’s capabilities are unclear.”

Ben-Shabbat, who served as Israel’s national security adviser and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021, said, “From Washington’s perspective, it would like to see the current success of the regional coalition as another step towards regional integration.”

While the chances for such integration are unclear, “Israel must consider the possibility of seizing this opportunity to derive significant benefit, such as in the realm of preventing Iranian nuclear proliferation,” he said.

Should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear installations, it would be better, according to Ben-Shabbat, to do so “within a joint plan with the U.S.”

But Ben-Shabbat told JNS the Biden administration “is not interested in the expansion of regional warfare, both because of the potential geopolitical and economic repercussions and out of concern that such a war could drag the U.S. into involvement.”

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